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“Someone Who Can Help Them”: A Deep Dive Into the Mental Health Proposals in the Gov.’s Budget

(March 24, 2023) Mental Health is a crisis that needs to be addressed immediately and needs to be a priority. Governor Shapiro understands the urgency to this matter and has proposed a substantial increase in mental health support for those Pennsylvania residents who are in need. During the Governor’s budget address on March 7, 2023, he said,

“As Attorney General, with the generous support of the Legislature, I started Safe2Say, an anonymous reporting system for students to report violence and threats of violence. Since we launched the program five years ago, we’ve received over 100,000 tips – but most of the tips weren’t about violence. 62.75 percent are from kids reaching out with mental health issues for themselves and their friends. I’ve been to their schools. I’ve asked these students what they need – and they’re very clear. Students want someone who can help them. We need to help our children and we need to listen to our children. Let me explain what I mean. I’ve been inspired everywhere I go by the way young people today speak so openly about mental health issues, about their struggles, about the need for more treatment. For too long, mental health has been an afterthought.”

The need for mental health programs is especially dire for students. The Governor’s budget proposes $500 million over five years for schools and community-based organizations to support mental health investments for staffing, community partnerships, and innovative programs in our schools. Here is what is included in that $500 million:

  • $100 million to the School-Based Mental Health Supports Block Grant
    • Establishes the School-Based Mental Health Supports Block Grant which will provide targeted funding to connect students and staff to mental health services and to develop a pipeline of trained school-based mental health professionals for future generations.
    • This is a new structure for existing funds and the $100 million set aside within the Ready to Learn Block Grant for school safety mental health grants is discontinued.
  • $20 million base increase to provide critical mental health services and address deepening workforce shortages
    • Funding for county-run mental health services would increase annually by $20 million, up to a total of $60 million in 2027-2028.
  • $4 million for the creation of three community-based diversion programs that will further keep individuals out of incarceration
    • The goal of this is to create and expand diversion and discharge programs for individuals with mental illness in the criminal justice system.
  • $5 million for one-time build out costs of the 988 system
    • Sustainable future funding for the 14 suicide prevention lifeline call centers throughout the Commonwealth by utilizing 2.75% of 911 surcharges on landline and mobile telephone services and to support Pennsylvania’s call centers and ensure that a lifeline is always available for friends and neighbors in crisis.
    • The goal is to ensure 988 can respond to an anticipated 9 million contacts in 2024. This includes specialized services for LGBTQI youth, services for Spanish speakers and a national media campaign for 988.

The current mental health system is strained and at capacity, schools are ill-equipped to handle the student mental health crisis, while counties lack the resources to tackle the broader problems in local communities. Pennsylvanians need somewhere to turn in a moment of need. Allies for Children is pleased to see the Governor prioritize a robust support to assist with the complex and varying needs of all Pennsylvanians. A complex issue requires a flexible funding stream to provide every school district with the resources that they need. This cannot be accomplished with a “one-size-fits-all” approach. Therefore, this budget proposes significant new mental health investments for staffing, community partnerships, and innovative programs in this space. There is still a lot of work to be done in these areas, but this sizable budget increase from 2022-2023 is a good first step to provide necessary resources to address mental health and we look forward to working with the General Assembly and the Governor’s administration to get these funding allocations enacted.

Heather Wilkes, Allies for Children Policy Manager